Private online HIX trail government HIX options, study finds

The private marketplaces provided 34 percent of the options offered by the government for individual and family plans.
By Diana Manos
10:22 AM

A new analysis from HealthPocket, Inc. finds that two of the leading online private health plan marketplaces or "private exchanges" offer fewer options for consumers to consider compared to established government plan finders.

Though gaps were also found in the government options, on average, only 41 percent of Medicare Advantage plans and 49 percent of Medicare Part D plans were found in the private exchanges compared to the federally-run,  according to HealthPocket officials.

The private marketplaces provided 34 percent of the options offered by the government for individual and family plans at, the study found.

[See also: States ready for HIX deadline.] 

"Given the increasing role of both private and government exchanges in health plan decisions, consumers need to be aware of what they are—and are not—seeing online,"Steve Zaleznick , executive director for Consumer Strategy and Development at HealthPocket, said in a news release. "Our analysis shows that the private sector has some work to do to keep up with the government in offering a more complete picture."

In addition to comparing the quantity of plans, HealthPocket reviewed the quality of the plans presented. Gaps in the private exchanges were noticeable in the Medicare market. For the metropolitan areas included in the study, no plans awarded the highest five star rating by the government were offered to the consumer via the private exchanges. Five-star plans were available through in three of the eight markets surveyed.

Private exchanges are considered the online marketplaces of health insurance and related products, including web brokers. The discrepancies in what is available online is important for consumers to be aware of, as by Oct. 1, 2013, government-operated online health insurance marketplaces will be in place in every state. By 2017, an estimated 23 million people will obtain their insurance from the exchanges and 12 million will rely on the private marketplace, including private online exchanges, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

[See also: States crafting HIX financing.] 

According to HealthPocket, people shopping in the individual health and Medicare markets obtain their coverage in a number of ways. They can buy their plan through these websites, via agents and brokers, or directly through the carriers. Regardless of their ultimate mechanism for purchasing a plan, at a minimum, millions of Americans will use the Internet to inform this important decision and they should have access to a complete array of options.

The results of the study were based on a direct comparison of the number of Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D and IFP carriers and plans offered by the private vversus government exchanges for coverage beginning June 1, 2013 in eight of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, HealthPocket says. The results were not uniform in favor of the government site inclusiveness: The federal IFP carrier offerings lagged behind at least one of the private exchanges in three major metropolitan areas (Chicago, Dallas, and New York) with the number of HHS plan offerings lagging in one city (New York).

This HealthPocket InfoStat is part of a series using health plan data to produce unbiased market analysis and guidance for consumers navigating America's changing health insurance environment. HealthPocket plans to update the report as the major ACA changes come into place toward the end of 2013